Gamescom is kind of like Europe’s version of E3, if E3 were bigger and somehow more of a spectacle. It’s open to the public, so anyone with about 20 Euro can come inside and see what’s on the horizon. The sense of excitement and enthusiasm around the event is contagious, and it’s one of the reasons I look forward to going to Germany every year to attend. This year my days were packed, and I saw a lot of games. Of those, these are the 10 that stood out to me – from tiny indies to major upcoming blockbusters.
At Gamescom, Gearbox outlined some of what players can expect from the shooter’s endgame content. In addition to the return of Circle of Slaughter, a hordelike, wave-based mode, Borderlands 3 introduces Proving Grounds. These side missions are unlocked by discovering hidden Eridian language fragments throughout the world. Unlike Circle of Slaughter, which has enemies assaulting players in a small area, Proving Grounds has more of a linear A to B structure. I played one of these missions as the pet handler Fl4k, where I had to fight a variety of skags and spiderants – including a queen and king variant – while working my way through the mission path. Proving Grounds is designed to be replayable, and there are optional goals to achieve. I didn’t make it through without dying (I blame my pet, even though it wasn’t probably the pupper’s fault), but I did beat the final boss in the allotted time and mopped up all the enemies. Because of that, the chest at the end of the stage held better loot for me, including a sniper-shotgun frankengun. Seeing a few of the objective checkmarks left blank only made me want to dive back in and do better next time. Next time isn’t long away, either. Borderlands 3 is coming September 13.
I’d never heard of Iron Danger before the show, and I’m glad I took the time to check out Action Squad Studios’ game. It’s a tactical RPG, which isn’t usually my thing, but the introduction of a timeline that players can scrub through like a video player makes defeat sting a lot less than in other games in the genre. The tagline says, “You will die, but you will not fail,” which is an appropriate sentiment. You play as a mage, and you and your party members fight against a variety of foes including 30-foot-tall steampunk automatons. Fortunately, you can swap between the real-time adventure mode to trance mode, where you advance and rewind time at your leisure. If you’re discovered or killed, you’re able to rewind time up to five seconds. You can also use that ability to have one character toss an explosive barrel, rewind, and do it again with the other – so they throw them in a coordinated attack. I watched a lengthy sequence where the party set up a trap, lured enemies over with a sound, and felled a tree to detonate it all. It didn’t work well at first, but thanks to rewinding and experimentation, it eventually resulted in a blast that wiped the enemies out in one massive explosion. It’s a more elegant alternative to save-scumming, which the devs say allows them to make enemies and encounters more challenging. It’s coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2020.
The Eternal Cylinder
The Trebhums have an unwieldly name and oddball appearance, but I grew quite fond of the little aliens during my hands-on demo with The Eternal Cylinder. The critters look a lot like Q-bert, and they face an existential threat in the form of a massive rolling object that is intent on moving forward – whatever is in its path, be damned. The Trebhums don’t start out able to do much more than flee, but they can eat different foods to manipulate their bodies in helpful ways. Chomp on a grasshopper-like creature, and you sprout springy legs to help you jump over walls. Cold weather got you down? Eat furry prey, and grow a fluffy coat. The unrelenting cylinder is far from the most surreal element in Ace Team’s game. As I progressed, I faced enemies including a giant pod thing that split in the middle, revealing a set of chompers. Weirder still was a torso and arms fused into a car. When I honked at it, it awoke from its slumber and chased me around – and the light from its headlights removed the modifications I’d picked up along the way. There’s also a narrator who would be right at home in a nature documentary, commenting on milestones and doing his part to contribute to the overall strangeness of the whole presentation. It’s coming to consoles and PC in 2020.
The first thing that struck me when I started playing Minecraft Dungeons was how hard it was. And I’m completely fine with that. The dungeon-crawler may draw from a kid-friendly universe, but the demo showed that it’s a competent game on its own. Our timed demo was set in the Desert Temple, and our group of four worked our way through the maze-like corridors to try to find the exit – and the big bad that guarded it. I immediately split off from the group, which I learned was a pretty bad idea. I could work my way through the low-level skeletons with relative ease, but became overwhelmed when facing tougher foes that could summon adds and were equipped with special status effects. You’re going to want to stick with your buddies when you play, is all I’m saying. There’s an impressive amount of depth in play, with enchanting systems and loot to collect. Being tossed into the world in a demo let me appreciate how well it controls and feels overall, but I’m looking forward to the satisfying accumulation in power that can only come from starting from scratch and working through the campaign. Minecraft Dungeons is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC in 2020.
I visited Experiment 101’s booth for the third consecutive Gamescom to see what the Swedish studio was up to. As it turns out, there’s a reason the team hasn’t been making headlines lately: They’re busy making the game. It’s been one of my most anticipated titles since I first saw it in 2017, and I was eager to see more of the post-apocalyptic kung-fu fable, as they call it. Rather than showing off a live demo as they have in the past, I got to watch a lengthy video that highlights just some of what players will be able to see if they spend enough time exploring the game’s world. Some of the highlights included a giant tortoise-like creature with buildings on its back, a boss battle where players pilot an octopus ship that can clamp down on the monster’s mouth and inject ink into its maw, and, my favorite, a mechanical hand vehicle. Players can ride on its hand as it creeps along like Thing from The Addam’s Family (sorry, I’m old), and it can activate a combat mode where it makes a finger-gun gesture while firing. I also caught a glimpse of the game’s six faction leaders, who each are masters of a unique weapon, such as a bo staff or nunchuks. Players choose to ally with one of the factions, and then can kill or spare the remaining ones as they work through the narrative. Be merciful, and you can even learn their abilities, seamlessly switching between them in combat. I wish I could have gotten some hands-on time with Biomutant, but I was still happy to see that it continues to look better every time I see it. Experiment 101 is a small studio of about 20 developers, and they’re currently working to ensure that it ships as bug-free and is as polished as possible. Look for it in 2020.
V1 Interactive’s debut is a tactical/FPS hybrid in which players give orders to A.I. squadmates and make snap tactical judgments while monitoring (and participating in!) the action on a weaponized hoverbike. The team wasn’t showing off the campaign, but I did get to check out one of Disintegration’s multiplayer modes. Retrieval is a lot like capture the flag, but with explosive payloads that can wipe your team if you aren’t careful. The matches I played were hectic, particularly since most members of the two four-person teams were still getting the hang of shooting on the bike and also making sure that their A.I. companions weren’t dawdling around. Once I got settled into the multitasking loop, I had a great time with it. Here’s hoping we get to see more of it soon. I wrote a longer preview on the game, too, which you can read here.
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break
Ace Team brings the stone-rolling action back in Rock of Age 3: Make & Break. As the name implies, the latest entry to the series adds user creation, allowing players to design, playtest, and share their tracks with the community. During a hands-off demo, I saw how easy it was to connect two points on an empty playspace by dragging the cursor around. Tracks were created automatically, following every bend the cursor made. From there, you can tweak the course further by clicking into the nodes that are automatically placed, widening the course or narrowing it, raising or lowering the height, and even adding banking slopes for high-speed cornering. Adding obstacles and other hazards is similarly simple. You’ll have to complete the track before you can share it with the world at large, so don’t get ay ideas about uploading something that’s impossible to complete. We saw a complete stage created in about five minutes. It looks intuitive and fun, and the developers say the tool is identical to what they’ve used to create the levels players will roll through in the campaign. It’s coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC next year.
Denki’s upcoming game is a boon for lazy people like me. You play as an adorable little explorer who lands on a procedurally generated planet to establish a new home. That sounds like a lot of work, but fortunately you’re not going to be doing it alone. Your character is a crafty one, capable of taking a few sticks and other materials to build functional robots. Once constructed, you’re able to program these bots to perform increasingly complex tasks. At first, having them chop down trees for you is a time-saving triumph. That’s nothing, though. Eventually you’ll be able to harness them to create entirely automated supply chains. For instance, you need blankets? You can have a series of robots feed and care for sheep, shear them when they’re ready, and then process the wool into blankets. You can even create clothes for your bots, outfitting your lumberjack bots in matching red plaid or putting ponchos on the farmers – while making new arrivals happy by fulfilling their needs and harvesting their love. Yeah. This agricultural focus is just the first step. After the game launches this fall, a free update will bring the industrial age to your tech tree, allowing you to upgrade bots to run on steam, build trains to ferry materials around, and more. Look for Autonauts on PC this fall.
The Farm 51’s upcoming horror game was a must-see for me this year, probably because HBO’s Chernobyl is still so fresh in my mind. This isn’t quite as realistic as the show (time shifts and weird ghost-like apparitions are just a few of the things that stuck out in my hands-on demo), but it’s no less atmospheric. The team visited the actual site of the nuclear disaster to capture photogrammetric measurements and get as many of the details right as possible. They weren’t able to delve as deep into the facility as Igor and his group of mercenaries do in the game, but perhaps that’s for the best. The former plant worker is haunted by memories – and visions – of his missing fiancé, Tatyana, and he figures he can only find answers at the site of the tragedy. After claiming some radioactive Chernobylite samples to power some kind of reality-bending tool, everything falls apart. The setup is intriguing, and the game’s overall structure seems to build on it in intriguing ways. Your small group sets up a camp, which can be expanded and improved like a survival game. You set out on expeditions to learn more about Tatyana’s whereabouts and gather resources. Keep your recruits happy, and they’ll accompany you in battle, give you weapons, and more. Permadeath is in play, so you’ll need to be careful. If you’re unfortunate enough to die, you’ll have to start over, too. There’s a cool twist though: You retain your memories, so you’ll get new conversation options to bypass some missions and save time on subsequent playthroughs.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about Cyberpunk 2077 at this point, particularly since the live demo I saw at Gamescom was essentially identical to what CD Projekt Red showed at E3 (and also thanks to our exhaustive coverage of that demo). It was the first time I’d seen it, though, and I walked away complete impressed. I think what stood out most of all was how seamless everything appeared, from talking with NPCs to combat to riding vehicles. There’s a sensation that the player avatar is inhabiting the world that’s hard to ignore, and perhaps harder to articulate. It’s an astounding feat, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it April 16, 2020. Boring choice, I know, but what can you do?